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How to prepare for a tournament Part One

It’s been a busy month so far with a rapidly filling calendar of 1-2-1 lessons, 3:1/4:1/5:1 groups and coach education in the run up to the Skechers Pickleball English Open. It’s clear that my client base, and players wider across the community, are getting ready to compete. However, what isn’t that well discussed or thought about is how to prep fully for multi day events on a practical level. Hydration, fuel/food, clothing, shoes, recovery, towels, bags, warm ups: there’s so many variables to consider to ensure you perform at your best.

With just under a month to go, it’s time to start thinking about hydration and energy sources aka food and drink. A tournament is a multi-hour, multi-day event for many and will always go on for a few hours each day. What and when you eat and drink is vital to try BEFORE the day. Endurance athletes always say “nothing new on race day”: nerves can play enough havoc on your stomach without trying a new energy bar/gel or “magic” food supplement. Many of these sports focussed items have less common natural and artificial sweeteners which can affect people with gut sensitivity. I’ve had irritable bowel syndrome since my teens so have been through the literal pains eating something that is not good for your gut. 

Some people like to feel fuelled but many like to feel “light” to perform and not have a “heavy” stomach. I’m in the latter camp so always look to load up early: a nutritious but not too heavy breakfast. Get the continental Premier Inn breakfast, not the full English: think porridge for slow release energy, fruit, maybe some eggs, beans, mushroom and tomatoes more than bacon or sausage if you go for the Full Breakfast. Test how much you eat and how long you need to feel it is properly digested. A few weeks out is also when to look into how to top up your energy during the day. Try out your snack bars, energy gels, shakes, plus fruit and vegetables: it doesn’t all have to be heavily processed food. Often people won’t want anything substantial and will snack their way through the day, then reward with a big meal to top up your calories after it’s all done, ready for the next day.

Everyone will be different but here are my go to’s. SIS Energy Gels are fine for my gut and give an instant hit of carbs to keep feeding your muscles when super active: I often avoid the caffeine versions for reasons to follow. Some variation on a simple flapjack style bar: mainly oats, seeds, some chocolate and fruit. The classic Cadburys Brunch bar, Nature Valley, Graze, Nak’d, all of these can work: you are going to be working hard so you can hang worrying the calories a little bit. Beef jerky, nuts, seeds, all this stuff is commonplace. Ready salted crisps can work if you need that salt hit as well as sugars. Fresh fruit can be good but the jury is partially out on bananas: whilst a great option, they aren’t going to work for everyone, as they can cause bloating and gas. And one final trick: Jelly Babies. They are a great alternative to energy gels and i know distance athletes that swear by them. Experiment with stuff you like but do it WELL IN ADVANCE of tournament day.

The other big part of fuelling and a common error made is hydration, or lack thereof. Now this doesn’t mean just water, Red Bull or Lucozade Sports drinks. Tea, coffee, alcohol all have effects that need being mindful of. Caffeine can be a big factor: I’ve suffered from getting this wrong on match day. Waking up early meant that I felt a bit less “with it” than usual. I picked up a latte on the way and said put an extra shot in. “I have a coffee each morning so one more shot won’t be an issue”. What I forgot was that in a coffee shop, the base drink already had two shots of espresso in it. So I’d actually tripled my caffeine intake over my single shot at home. I was a jittery mess in the first game, going for everything, overhitting a ton and generally feeling way too on edge. Don’t be me, play it safe or test it early.

When performing and especially in summer events (the South East Pickleball League is like playing in an insulated cow shed!), you will be sweating heavily. That means the loss of salt, sugar and water. Many people think that isotonic drinks are what you need but that’s great marketing from the fizzy drink brands. Electrolytes are a common theme and have benefit but hypotonic drinks are where it’s at, as they are the fastest absorbed drink.  

I swear by Precision Hydration products for replacing the lost salt and sugars from sweating. They offer an online, as well as in person, sweat test, which then guides you to the correct concentration of sachet/tablet for use both before and during competition. I use both PH1500 and PH1000, depending on the when I’m using it. Pre-loading is vital: if you are well hydrated before competing and already have optimum levels of those nutrients that will be lost via sweat, you can perform better for longer and just keep topping up.

I seem to suffer terribly from migraines caused by dehydration: using PH drinks mixes can completely alter this within a few minutes if i feel I’m about to have an attack.  There’s a couple of links below to find out more: other brands used by runners are worth exploring but I’ve found what works for me.  It’s also worth trying Halo Nutrition as endorsed by Andy Murray and the iconic Pickleball Cocktail from Jigsaw Health: if you saw any pro matches online pre 2023, their ads were ubiquitous and hilarious. These are in your electrolytes space for drinks, rather than the hypotonic of PH.

Don’t forget a big insulated water jug. I love my Under Armour 64oz playmaker: twelve hours cool and HUGE. It even has a fence hook for outdoor play. I’ve also got a couple of Takeya bottles, often seen during US tournaments: they can keep ice as ice for up to 24 hours. They really are exceptional but harder to find in Europe and a little more pricey. Make sure your water jug is insulated rather than just a basic plastic version: when it’s 32 degrees and there’s no air con, you’ll thank me. Maybe use the big jug bottle to top up a smaller version, where your electrolytes/hydration solution lives.

Summing up, PH’s online sweat test and carb calculator is really helpful and I recommend everyone try it, just for the knowledge it brings about your body when competing. They also have insights below.

Part 2 of the blog will cover off what to take to court each day and it’s way more than you think. Parts 3 and 4 move more towards the actual event itself rather than kit to buy or bring with you. But if you only remember one thing from this post, nothing new on tournament days: any free samples at an event, put in your bag, take away and try AFTERWARDS. 

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